Voigtlander Heliar 12mm f5.6


I recently bought a second-hand Voigtlander 12mm ultra wide angle lens for my Leica M. In the Leica world this is quite a cheap lens especially for such a ultra wide angle. Since starting to use the lens I can't resist standing close to buildings and pointing my camera upward towards the sky, it's like a hoover fitted to the front of my camera sucking in everything close to it, buildings, trees, lamp posts you name it. 


I am just loving some of the results I am getting. Objects close to the camera seem to frame the shot. 


I especially like the sausages hanging with the washing in this shot


The lens also performs very well, sharp with good contrast and colours, even sharpness and smearing in the corners is very acceptable especially considering how wide it is. I am looking forward to using it for more conventional cityscapes when I get more time to go out shooting. 


Brits in Shanghai :-) 


Sometimes you get lucky


Autumn time is the best time of the year for taking cityscapes in Shanghai. I think so anyway. It's not too hot and humid and generally the pollution seems lower leading to clear sky's helping buildings to really stand out. Last week we had some lovely days and I was out late in the afternoon taking pictures over in Lujiazui the new financial district of Shanghai, I say new but it's been around for some time now and it is the home of some of the worlds tallest buildings including the new Shanghai Tower which will open next year at 632M. 

Lujiazui has a lot of elevated walkways and I was working light using a simple clamp to fix my camera to the handrails of the walkways rather than lugging around a big tripod. As the sun set and all the lights came on I was using long exposures to remove as many people from the shots as possible. Lujiazui is very busy and I was trying to capture some shots where the city looked empty. When people move during a long exposure they generally disappear or at most leave a slight blur. I took a number of shots waiting for people who were standing still to move hoping to get a shot where everyone was moving with nobody standing around. In the above shot at the time I was aware of the person sitting at the subway entrance and I expected that during such a long exposure they would move around and later I would probably have to Photoshop them out. But as luck would have it they remained still and the result was a picture I had not expected or considered at the time. A single person alone in the city. One of my favourite shots this year. 

Along the same street


Even after years of living in Shanghai I am still intrigued by the extreme contrast the city can offer between rich and poor, high tech/low tech, western and Chinese customs. You can walk down streets lined with tower blocks with high end department stores on every corner and posh offices and apartments disappearing into the clouds. But in the shadows of the towers are communities living simple lives in basic apartments surviving on a modest annual income far less than the cost of a Prada handbag in one of the fancy department stores.

I took the above picture inside a small apartment complex close to where I live in Hongqiao district. It's very typical of the kind millions of Shanghainese live in. Possibly 20 to 30 blocks of apartment buildings each one 6 floors high with more than 30 apartments in each block. The blocks have no lift only stairs and a labyrinth of narrow lanes connect the blocks. Within the complex there will be typically an exercise area with some simple exercise machines, some benches to sit on and possibly a couple of small shops selling fruit and takeaway snacks. Although most apartments will have aircon it's expensive to run so in the summer people will sit around outside talking, eating and playing cards or mahjong. You step inside the complex away from the noise of the busy streets and the feeling is quite relaxed and tranquil, you get the feeling people know each other and it's a real neighbourhood. Unlike the apartment tower where I live which has a feeling of isolation.

I saw this shot a couple of nights previous when I was walking around taking shots of people relaxing and socialising in the evening outside the apartments. The newly built office tower seemed to stand like a giant between the two apartment blocks and the light from its fancy decoration lit up what is normally a dark alley. To do the shot justice I knew I had to return with my tripod and wide angle lens. I wanted to get some detail in the apartment blocks so when I returned I stopped down to f8 and using the remote took a 10 second exposure. I took the shot with a Sony A6000 and a 10-18mm lens set at 12mm. The raw file I then processed in Lightroom 5 and added a bit of warmth to the apartment blocks and desaturation to the lights and windows of the tower since I found the colours distracting. During the shot a little girl came out of one of the apartments and asked me what I was doing, I tried to explain but my Chinese is so poor I don't think she understood but she seemed happy to have a foreigner taking pictures outside her home. The final picture did well on Flickr hitting the first page of explore so it was well with the return.

Former French Concession District


After living in Shanghai for so many years it's always difficult to find something new to do or see at the weekends. Also trying to avoid the crowds and find a quiet spot is almost impossible when you live in a city with a population of more than 24 million. Last Sunday we decided to try our luck and have a walk around the streets in former French concession district. It's normally relatively quiet for Shanghai and the French, god bless them, planted thousands of trees along all the streets and many have survived for more than a hundred years so it's a nice change from the usual streets lined with concrete. They also built some beautiful villas and apartment buildings that are easy to miss because of the trees and high walls that surround them. But every now and then you get a glimps of a villa and a garden and it's easy to forget that you are in China. A number of the old villas have been converted to restaurants, cafés or pubs and some areas have become quite trendy.

On Sunday I noticed this small shop in the shadows of the trees with an inviting warm glow of light. The shop being framed by the trees and the texture of the surrounding wall made for an interesting shot. But the light was low because of the trees and time of day so for a hand held shot it meant lifting the ISO to 800 and a steady hand at 1/25th sec. From experience I know I can even get away with 1/15th sec and still get a sharp shot but not every time so I always take 2 or 3 shots and mostly one of them will be OK. This is using a Leica with no stabilising technology so with a stabiliser I could probably go lower. It helps when you stop drinking for sure. The resulting shot I like and I think helps to convey the mood of this area. 

Its also interesting that the Chinese do not like this area being referred to as the "former French concession" anymore and recently a western restaurant got in to trouble when they mentioned it in an advert. It's a reminder of a dark period in Shanghai's history that many people now want to forget.

Don't delete your pictures



One thing I have learned over the years is not to be too quick to delete my pictures thinking that they are not quite up to scratch. In the past in order to save HD space I have deleted a bunch of pictures from a shoot only keeping the ones I thought were the best, but now I only delete the obvious failures such as missed focus or camera shake. Every month or so I go back to past pictures and it's surprising how many times I see a shot and think how did I miss this one.

The shot above is a perfect example. I found this one today when going through some pictures I took last year. At the time I thought the colours were not quite right and it had too much clutter in the foreground, probably my attention was on another picture when I imported them into Lightroom. But today when I saw it I thought it would look nice cropped as a panorama and converted to mono with a bit of split toning. It's also a fact that as my Lightroom and Photoshop skills improve I see potential in shots that I simply could not see in the past.

So keep your finger off the delete button and save your shots for a rainy day.